David Healy, the portly American actor best known for his stirring performances in British productions of Broadway musicals, died Oct. 25 in London after falling into a coma following a heart operation. He was 64.
The actor had several heart operations in recent years but his death was nonetheless unexpected, said his agent, Meg Poole. His older brother, the Rev. Timothy Healy, former president of the New York Public Library, died of a heart attack almost three years ago at age 69.
Born in Texas, Healy studied drama at Southern Methodist University and began his career working in Air Force entertainments in Britain during World War II. After leaving the service, he settled in England and quickly found work in both the commercial and subsidized theater. In an interview a decade ago, Healy compared life as an American actor in England to that of “a big fish in a little pond. In the States, there are 20 guys who look exactly like you and are probably much more talented.”
He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1967 to do Jules Feiffer’s “Little Murders,” and stayed on to act in “Julius Caesar,” “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and Arthur Kopit’s “Indians.” Away from the RSC, he acted on the fringe in early London productions by John McGrath and by American writers Michael Weller and Terrence McNally.
But it was on the musical stage where Healy came into his own, appearing as one of Keith Michell’s sidekicks in “On the Twentieth Century” (1980) and as the lone American with Gemma Craven in Julian More and Monty Norman’s 1979 “Songbook.” In 1982, he played Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Richard Eyre’s smash National Theatre revival of “Guys and Dolls,” for which he won an Olivier Award as supporting actor; he stayed with the production when it moved to the West End in 1985, eliciting five encores on opening night for his buoyant “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”
His next West End musical was the 1987 Cameron Mackintosh-Mike Ockrent production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.” Healy played Arizona real estate salesman Buddy Plummer, opposite Julia McKenzie’s Sally, performing virtually back to back in Act Two an angry “The Right Girl” and rapid-fire “Buddy’s Blues.” Other West End shows included “Wildfire” (1986), with Diana Rigg and Arthur Miller’s “The Last Yankee” (1993), first at the Young Vic and then at the Duke of York’s. His final appearance on the London stage was last summer in concert performances of the musical “Take Me Along.”
His last New York stage run was in the 1992 Roundabout Theatre revival of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Inspector Hound,” as the critic Birdboot, and ‘ The Fifteen-Minute Hamlet.” He appeared in several James Bond films; in TV guest shots on “Harry 0,” “Dallas,” and “Charlie’s Angels”; and was heard in ads for McDonald’s, Adidas, and Heineken, among others.
Survivors include his wife, Peggy, who owns a polo stable in west London’s Richmond Park, and two sons, William and Timothy.